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Archive November 2002
Friday 29 November 2002
A nice contrasting pair of links; a splendidly practical view of direct magic from 'The Library of Knowledge', and a fantastically impractical manner of messing with IP packets at an iptables firewall with 'libipq'. Of course, no sensible person believes in IP packets. [09:44] [0 comments] Ha. No Happy Thanksgivings from me. Did anyone notice? Of course not. So why did so many of you post bloody thanksgiving livejournal entries? Cluttering up my screen with your pseudo-religious nonsense. Grumble grumble grumble. I'm really very happy, so I have to catch up on my grumbling. You bastards. [09:01] [6 comments]

Wednesday 20 November 2002
I have a Holly. Ha. [00:36] [13 comments]

Monday 18 November 2002
Social interaction, and the beginning of conversations. I have ranted before, I think, about how much I dislike the "Hello," "Hello," "How are you?" "Fine, how are you?" "Fine." standardised beginning, as a waste of time and effort (why not just skip straight to a conversation with a topic?), but I've just crystallised a new extension to the theory.

One of the most annoying things about the opening is that it puts the onus, first, on the victim of the conversation to supply a topic - either of "Hello." "Hello." "How are you?" or "Hello, how are you?" are asking for the second party, the one that doesn't initiate the conversation, to supply information. Now, if I had something interesting to say to the initiator, I would probably have started the conversation myself ("Hello - here's an interesting thing..."). As such, I find the opening "Hello." "Hello, how are you?" much less annoying as information is requested first of the initiating party. Unfortunately, they usually won't actually supply any information, instead going for "fine, how are you?" and the onus is once again on the victim.

Ideally, I think, the onus to supply a topic of conversation should never fall on the victim of the greeting. There should never even be a suggestion that the greeted should be the one to provide information - though they can, of course, offer it if they wish. Initiating a conversation without having a topic, or even just something to say is the thing that annoys me, rather than the opening text itself.

All of this applies primarily online, mind, where you can't know if the victim is busy - if you bump into someone on public transport, or something, time-wasting pointless conversation is fair enough, because you can see that the victim isn't doing anything else. [17:51] [8 comments]

Friday 15 November 2002
I think I may have just got the blog comment that has made me laugh the loudest, of all the comments since the blog came to be. In response to an entry in which I was angry at X-Windows, I got this:
Its not about functionality. That will come. Its about freedom. Stallman said it back in the early 80s. I'll pass on the proprietary crap/spyware and deal with the flaws thanks.
The functionality will come. Stallman said it in the early 80's. Hmmm, what year is it now? [23:24] [10 comments]
And on a related geeky note (due to reinstalling Windows Media Player, which was evidently broken since I couldn't uninstall it without my handy registry axe), I'm always amused whenever I go to Windows Update, because I'm using my font, which doesn't really scale properly, the Microsoft site looks like it was drawn by a child with a crayon. Like this: Welcome To Windows Update [04:25] [0 comments] Geek time again. Windows Media Player won't play some video files I have, but a different player will; it should be all about codecs, so there should be no way for WMP to fail if others succeed. Tsk. In other geekery, I'm somewhat pleased with The Startup Control Panel, which does for Win2K what "msconfig" does for Win95. And Startup Monitor, by the same person, is nice for the "advertware begone" aspect. Not that you can't do the same thing manually with the startup control panel, but being immediately alerted is nice; it's like a firewall for the system internals. I expect there's some Norton product that does the same thing, but Norton products frighten me. [00:25] [1 comment]

Thursday 14 November 2002
Related to my grumbling about voting methods the other day, I've discovered two more things. Firstly, the voting system used in Australia that I mentioned is better called Instant Runoff Voting than whatever I called it. Much less ambiguous. Secondly, there's a voting method that seems better and a bit less silly, but also harder to explain; Condorcet Voting. It's possible, with Instant Runoff, for decreasing preferences for a candidate to cause that candidate to win. On the other hand, it's possible, with Condorcet, for a candidate that nobody liked best to be the winner. Which sounds quite bad. Not necessarily so, though - if voting on a linear scale of some sort, with a candidate in the left, one on the right, and one in the middle, if half the voters prefer 'left' and half the voters prefer 'right', the winner will be 'middle' (assuming voters who prefer left cast their order of preference as "left,middle,right" and the other lot cast "right,middle,left"). Which makes quite a lot of sense, even if it does make nobody happy. Really, I think the "vote with your feet" method of voting is best - all the left-voters go to Leftland, all the right-voters go to Rightland, stick an impenetrable barrier between them, and everyone wins. [11:31] [4 comments]
On the subject of so-called censorship, I'd like to draw an analogy with 'free speech' in a vocal/audio forum. Imagine two speakers trying to get a point across to an audience. The two speakers have conflicting views. I will dub them Kang and Kodos.

Kodos starts speaking to the audience; Kang takes this opportunity to say "LAAA LAAA LAAA LAAA LAAA LOOK AT ME EVERYBODY!"

Kodos politely waits until Kang has finished, and starts speaking again. Kang pipes in immediately with "DOO DEE DOO DEE DOO! I HAVE A HAT!"

Would it be censorship for someone to throw Kang out? Yes.
Would it be restricting Kang's freedom? Yes.
Would it be censorship to *not* throw Kang out? Yes, Kang would be effectively censoring Kodos. Letting Kang yell would restrict Kodos' "freedom of speech".
What of the audience? By letting Kang yell, you are preventing them from listening to what Kodos has to say. By throwing Kang out, are you preventing them from listening to what Kang has to say? No, they can follow him if that's what they'd rather listen to.

This, I think, is a fair analogy to how moderated lists are generally 'censored'. I realise that, as a mailing list, yelling does not actually make it impossible for other speakers to be heard, but it certainly does reduce their impact. When traffic for a list gets very high, as it does without 'censorship', the attention I pay to each message decreases proportionately, even to the point that some get deleted without a glance if their subject lines don't appeal.

I also realise that people on mailing lists generally aren't saying "DOO DEE DOO DEE DOO". Repetition of previously stated material without imparting new information or clarifying anything really isn't much better, though, is it?

A later alteration to this rant, making the analogy more similar to the problem with mailing lists; Kang and Kodos are talking about fish, with an audience. Kang says "blue fish are the best". Kodos starts speaking, but one of Kang's friends walks in, and declares "blue fish are the best!". Kodos says "not really, because...", but before he can continue, Kang and Kang's friend both say "blue fish are the best!". Another of Kang's friends arrives, imparting the helpful new information "blue fish are the best". The audience leaves. Kodos leaves.

Kodos has always had my vote, so I prefer mailing lists to be sensibly moderated. [11:07] [7 comments]

Tuesday 12 November 2002
At last! Exoskeletons! Not that they're actually anywhere closer to building them than people have been before, nor building them for public consumption. But still. Maybe I'll be able to get a set of Dr Octopus tentacles within my lifetime. [09:46] [3 comments]
I'm sure by now we all know that Verisign sucks, but here's a feature I hadn't encountered before - in order to transfer your domain to a different registrar, you have to confirm the transfer on a Verisign website. That much is fair enough. But in order to confirm the transfer, you have to check a box that says "I agree to be bound by the terms of the Verisign service agreement", or words to that effect. What the hell? You have to agree to be bound by their service agreement in order to stop using their service? I checked the box only on the basis that I don't believe such an agreement is legally binding when made under duress. Nor did I read it, which omission I believe also draws the validity into question. [00:17] [0 comments]

Sunday 10 November 2002
It's fun with spam again; a "talk to your computer and it will do the typing" program being advertised - one that I've had personally recommended before, actually. But how do they advertise it? With this subject line: "Hate Typing? U Talk, It Types CD, 5 Min Setup". Wot, eye torque it types? Seedy! Who the hell puts "U" in an advertisement for a fucking typing product? rbtexas.net do. [21:51] [0 comments] On a lighter note; Exploding Razors. Here's the true story. Al Qaeda is rigging razors to explode so that American men will fear to shave. Their next trick is to put acid in shampoo, so that everyone will have to bandage their heads. So American men will have big beards and bandaged heads. And then the terrorists will have already won. [15:29] [1 comment]
The foolish views that make the Free State Project seem even less appealing and more flawed than I thought, part two (from a more representative voice): "I expect at least 15,000 to come through" - speaking in response to my suggestion that 20,000 people signed up doesn't mean anywhere near that many who will follow through.

His statement is based on a belief that libertarians tend to be bound by their 'word of honour'. Even assuming that to be true (which I don't), the suggestion is still flawed, because it's based on the assumption that the 20,000 sign-ups will be libertarians, rather than, as I suspect, more like 15,000 of them being people who just think 'ooh, that sounds neat'.

We all know some people, right? Now, of those people you know, how many have said "I hate my job; if they don't start treating me better I'll quit"? How many have said they'll break up with their partner? How many have said they'll move out of their parents' basement? How many people do you know who have said things like this and not followed through when their stated conditions have been met?

When I finished writing Revelations, I put three chapters online followed by a short survey, including the question "would you buy this book for $10?" Before I had the book printed, I had over 200 email addresses who had said yes, they would buy the book if it were $10. After I had the book printed, a mere one month later, I emailed those 200 addresses. About 20 of them bought the book.

A mailing list I am on has occasional projects. Whenever a project starts, interested volunteers are asked for. Ten to twenty people will state interest. When it comes to working the project (and it's never anything really difficult, or requiring much time) no more than three people act. Ever.

This 10-15% is about the level of commitment I expect from people 'giving their word'. Expecting 50% would be insanely optimistic. 75% is so utterly unrealistic that I am inclined towards giving up on the whole idea, on the basis that the proponents don't have a clue about people - and they're relying on people for their project to succeed. [12:26] [2 comments]
The foolish views that make the Free State Project seem even less appealing and more flawed than I thought, part one (from an unrepresentative voice): "This country was born of democracy. Revolution springs most readily from where there is consensus." and "freeing a state as our forefathers went about freeing a country"

I wonder how many other people think such things; I fear the answer is 'many'. Time for a brief lesson in unpopular history. The revolutionary "forefathers" of the US did not have the consensus of the populace. They largely ignored the given views of the majority. Pleasantly indicative of this, Benjamin Franklin said "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote."

The populace eventually came to agree with the views put forward by the blokes, of course, and now many (probably most) believe that the chaps were acting on the will of the people. They weren't. They were acting on their own will, for what they had autocratically decided was the good of the people. They were a kinetocracy; they had power through acting like they had power. They were never a democracy. They didn't even think democracy was a good idea. Here's a fairly good article giving details to that effect.

The Free State Project's methods, of course, are more similar to those of Franklin and co. than to a democracy - for the quoted voice, or for any libertarian voice, to whinge about democracy shows a quite impressive lack of understanding. Libertarian views don't have a majority - hence democracy and libertarianism don't go together, at least not now. The goal of the Free State Project, to take a state by shifting a voter bloc to a single region, is an explicit attempt to undermine democracy. And rightly so. [12:11] [2 comments]

Saturday 9 November 2002
On a related note, the best word ever, via Tyrethali: kakistocracy. I also rather like "kinetocracy", which seems to have been coined by Hermit, hence absent from dictionary and requiring some deductive ability. But here's a hint. [11:12] [1 comment]
I've seen the idea suggested before, but the Free State Project seems like a better researched and considered version of the theme. There are two major weak points; overestimating people and, oddly, a really unsound voting method to decide on a target state.

Unsound? Yes. The Cumulative Count method, as described, encourages strategic voting that even a precocious five-year-old knows to exploit. There is no personal advantage in splitting your vote-points, ever; hedging your bets towards your favourite is best, unless you're fairly sure your favourite won't win, in which case all points should be allocated to your second choice (or whichever is your best choice that has a chance). This is horrible, because it causes the two party system that we're probably all familiar with, but that's not the fault of the voter; the purpose of voting is to get the best candidate you can, and this abusive method is the best way, with this system.

A better system is approval voting, in which you can vote yes or no to every candidate independently, which means you can vote for a 'third party' without it weakening your 'useful' vote in any way. However, there is still an element of strategic voting available here, as if candidates A and B are both quite good, but both likely to win, it might be in your favour to vote against your second choice of the two even if you like them.

Better still, in my opinion, is preferential voting as implemented in Australia. With this method, you put all the candidates in order of preference. The nice thing about this method is that it's rarely damaging to your 'useful' vote to have a 'useless' vote before it. If B and C are the candidates likely to win, voting A, B, C will have no more or less effect than B, A, C or B, C, A; the fact that you prefer B over C will most likely still register. While it is possible that stating your true preference could weaken your 'useful' vote, the votes have to be in a complicated and extremely unlikely configuration for this to happen, and the benefit of having your 'real' vote cast first outweighs this, in my opinion. This is the only voting method I've seen for which I wouldn't distort my actual preferences for strategic purposes.

Despite these two objections (not my only objections, of course), the Free State Project still seems like a worthy cause, especially in light of my being unable to find anywhere I'd actually like to live. [09:19] [5 comments]

Friday 8 November 2002
RealVNC is rather splendid. Now I don't even have to use The Stick to control my computer whose keyboard is out of arm's reach. Laziness is king, and hence I am emperor, or perhaps god. I shall send them deserved money. [02:11] [0 comments]

Thursday 7 November 2002
This Terrifica thing is doing the blog rounds pretty swiftly. It caused me to realise, I must be either a superhero or a supervillain. I have a moderately foolish costume, utility pockets, an excessively dramatic name, a secret identity, a cave full of computers, and several arch enemies. These attributes would seem to make me a superhero rather than a villain, though. On the other hand, I do have henchmen and a hypnotic recruitment campaign. Perhaps I'm a super-solipsist or super-narcissist or something. [12:40] [4 comments]

Wednesday 6 November 2002
An entertaining piece of snail-mail spam: first, in big letters, "COMPLIMENTARY HOLIDAY TURKEY OR HAM". Apparently this spelling of complimentary is interchangable with complementary, in America, but it still amuses me, in a Restaurant At The End Of The Universe sort of way. Then, to claim your flattering meat, you have to take a short survey. Question one: "What do you think is America's biggest health concern? Exercise, Diet or Water/Air pollution?" I think it was exercise, but with all the sycophantic viands, you've probably turned it to diet, Mr Survey Man. [23:10] [4 comments]
From an uncommon source, Louis, some heartwarming news about military recruitment, that inspires endless faith and confidence in the US government. No Child Unrecruited. [14:20] [2 comments] Via Kevan, printable paper rulers. Something handy to have in my blog-search capabilities, for next time I need a measuring device and don't have one. [14:18] [0 comments]

Tuesday 5 November 2002
When I said mysql is evil, I was wrong. The combination of Apache, Perl and mysql, without appropriate efficient connecting mechanisms, is evil. With mod_perl and Apache::DBI, Apache and mysql can be joined in a joyful union of squeezy squeezy love. And it is good. Though compiling mod_perl from source and getting it to join with a non-standard Apache install is a pain. Also, for those of you patient enough to wade through the geekery, you should listen to a Scandinavian Singing Horse Choir from b3ta.com. [08:41] [2 comments]

Friday 1 November 2002
Halloween yesterday. My wife was putting out a bowl full of lollies, to prevent people knocking. "The first lot of kids will just take them all," I said. "I don't care," she said. "Then why not just not put out a bowl of lollies?" "It's to stop people knocking." "But it will only stop the first lot." It was even more spectacularly crap than I expected; the first lot of kids took not just the lollies, but the bowl too. And then more kids came knocking. How can one reach the age of 25 without realising that children are little fucking thieving shitheads who should all be stabbed in the face with rusty blades? We've had mail stolen from our doorstep by kids; how can one expect candy, left out for kids, to not be so treated, in light of that? [18:50] [40 comments] Hooray for pop-up toilets in London. So many practical joke applications; popping up at passers-by during the day, with flashing lights and a fanfare; "You have been selected to use the Urinal 5000, and win a prize!"; sinking back into the ground as soon as someone lets loose with their foul bladder-fluids; false pop-up urinals that are really on wheels. The possibilities are endless. And not really very funny, I realise, having finished writing. [18:05] [2 comments]
Everyone should vote for Ziiiim! [01:34] [11 comments]